02 March 2009

The Homeless: A Republican Myth Debunked

Back at the turn of the millennium, as George W. Bush was about to take office, I recall Mr. Right and other Republicans commenting that now we would start to hear about the homeless again in a way we hadn't during the Clinton years. They were perpetuating an idea that dated back to the Reagan years, which was that the "liberal media" made more of the plight of the homeless when Republicans ran the country than when Democrats did. The implicit argument was that homelessness actually had little to do with Presidential policies, but that liberals publicized homelessness excessively during GOP administrations in order to make times look worse than they actually were, and to blame Republicans for homelessness in general.

A Democrat is President now, so according to Republican logic we shouldn't be seeing stories like this one in the media. Based on how Republicans interpret these stories, they must presume that Barack Obama has put these people out on the street. But I suspect we'll hear a different interpretation this time, something along the lines of the liberal media hyping homelessness in order to promote more "big government" stimulus spending over the principled objections of Republicans. Since Republicans need to believe that some powerful "elite" establishment is always conspiring against them, it should be no surprise if they contradict themselves while always trying to prove the same point.

As for the news itself, which suggests that bouts of homelessness will handicap children in school, the obvious answer is to create jobs and put parents to work so they can secure stable housing for their families. Some people are content to wait for the private sector to come up with brilliant ideas (inspired somehow by tax cuts)that might employ these people, but the nation isn't in a position to wait for entrepreneurial genius to strike like lightning. It's up to the public sector to create "shovel ready" jobs that will restore the nation's infrastructure. Critics complain that these wouldn't be career jobs and thus offer no long-term solutions, but the private sector hasn't been that great at creating career jobs itself in recent times, so what's the point? But as for the kids, there was a time when we could trust at least some of them to seek knowledge on their own. People like Abraham Lincoln were largely self-educated, for instance. But the nation has an interest in developing the maximum talent pool of intelligent youth, so anything that can be done to keep kids advancing through public schools with skills for modern times should be top priority today.

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